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Break­ing Down Thurs­day’s Results By Weight Class

| Scott Farrell

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Liberty leads the NCWA Championships after the first day, ahead of Apprentice and Grand Valley State at the moment and with the depth of 18 wrestlers still competing in 10 different brackets.

But the day also provided plenty of highlights for other individuals and programs who look to surge up to the medal stand Saturday. Many questions remain. Can Apprentice or Grand Valley State can make a move to cut into Liberty’s lead? Where will Bellarmine finish as the latest transition team to compete against the NCWA? Can the Ohio State Wrestling Club secure its first Division II championship? The NCWA record for All-Americans in one season is 15. Liberty had 12 last year. Can they match (or beat) the record? And can Jeffrey Allen win a historic fourth consecutive title at 235 pounds (see separate story from Thursday).

Here is a look at the day’s results broken down by weight class.

125 pounds – The top five seeds remain alive into the quarterfinals headlined by Bellarmine’s Jack Parker at the top of the bracket. Parker (26-13), the top seed, pinned his first two opponents to set up a feature match against nine-seed Chase Arnestad (15-11) of tournament-leading Liberty. An Arnestad win in what will be the morning session’s first quarterfinal match (Bout 747) could set a tone either way for the Flames. One of the day’s key matches also has Liberty involved here as three-seed Dante Mininno (17-10) faces Apprentice’s Caleb Olgers in another quarterfinal matching.

Aiden Connors (6-5), who became North Texas’ second all-time All-American last season, is one win from repeat honors. He’ll face returning two-time All-American Dylan Beddow (24-5) of Springfield Tech in the quarters. Beddow, the four-seed, scored a tech fall, a fall and an 8-4 decision in his three wins on the day. The other quarter has Apprentice’s Bruno Alves (16-4), the two-seed, matching up against Rowan’s John Tesoriero (10-0), the seven-seed who remained undefeated on the season with a forfeited win plus a 6-3 decision in the round of 16.

133 pounds – Dillon Messick (29-8) is on top of this class but has his hands full Friday and beyond. The top seed, Messick faces Ohio State’s Caleb Hernandez in the quarters. Hernandez and the Buckeyes had an outstanding Thursday that has them pushing toward a Division II title. Blake Schmitt took advantage of a draw into the round of 64 to score a fall for extra team points with a major decision to follow. In the round of 16 Schmitt avenged and earlier loss to Bellarmine’s Michael Schiffhauer at the NCWA National Duals with a 3-1 win in sudden victory.

Kaden Blair (27-4), the two-seed, faces James Madison’s Kyle Hansberger the quarters on the other side of the bracket. Grand Valley State’s hopes improved with their strong Thursday showing. Gabriel Martinez, the six-seed, was a part of that with a fall and tech fall to reach the quarters. He’ll face Virginia Tech’s Andrew Holladay, the three-seed who is leading the Hokies in their second year at the nationals.

Special note on Alex Colon of Interamerican. He became the first wrestler from one of the new Puerto Rico universities to win a match at the NCWA Championships, earning a pin in the round of 64. Colon fell in the next round, but Interamerican leads the seven Puerto Rico Conference schools through one day with 10.5 points and in 40th place.

141 pounds – Kenneth Lambert (13-4) of Clemson made the news here shooting into the quarterfinals as the 20-seed. Lambert upset the four-seed Josiah Johnson of Washington State to earn the spot in the championship eight and now faces Alfonso Vargas (13-2) of Florida. Parker Watson (13-0) held form as the top seed and already has his name in the record book with a 10-second pin in the second round, tied for the second-fastest pin in NCWA Championships history. It will be a match between undefeated wrestlers when Watson faces Texas A&M’s Scott Kilian (11-0), the nine-seed.

On the other side of the bracket the seeds held. Elijah Gandert (25-5) of Grays Harbor, the two-seed, takes on seventh-seeded Braeden Amole (11-1) of Penn State. The three-seed, Jordan Robins (27-6) of Apprentice, faces Springfield Tech’s six-seed Kalil Shabaz in the other quarter.

149 pounds – The seeds held here for the most part, putting the onus on top-seeded Zach Cowan (26-8) of Bellarmine to hold serve in the remainder. If not, three-time All-American Charles Hudson (23-10) is ready to pounce and make it four straight. Cowan will face UConn’s Daniel Veleas (20-9), a returning All-American who placed seventh in this bracket last year, in the quarters. Texas A&M continues to improve every season and has five-seed Jacob Grogan (12-2) in the quarters facing four-seed Joey Murphy (20-10) of Grand Valley State. Both are returning All-Americans who placed through consolations last year. One of them reaches the semifinals Friday.

On the other side of the bracket Apprentice and Grand Valley State face off in an important match with returning All-American Zachary Ortega (25-13) of the Builders facing the Lakers’ Caden Jacobs (12-5). This is a key chance for Grand Valley State to put two into the semifinals and beyond. Hudson, the two-seed, escaped a sudden-victory match in the round of 16 past Allen University’s Drevon Wallace. Hudson faces Thomas McCane (7-2) of Central Florida in the quarters.

157 pounds – Score the day’s biggest upset for Rowan’s Joseph Miranda (9-1), the Mid-East Conference champion who shocked top-seeded Ian McIlhenny (12-8), the defending NCWA champion at 157. Miranda struck first with a first-period takedown and a two-point near fall in the third period was the difference. Miranda now takes on Stony Brook’s Wayne Lamont, a returning All-American who took fourth in this bracket last year. Toledo’s Ezekiel Burkholder (28-16), the three-seed, and two-time returning All-American Moustapha Bal, the four-seed, meet in the other.

The seeds held in bottom half. Bellarmine’s three-seed, Alex Rivera (15-8), takes on four-seed James Lunt (21-2) of Springfield Tech in one quarterfinal. Nicholas Martino (11-3) of Fresno State, a returning All-American who placed third here last year, is the two seed facing East Carolina’s Christian Govan (16-1), the seven seed. With McIlhenny’s path now cut off, the 157 title race is wide open.

Kudos go to all the NCWA wrestlers at 157 pounds, where there were 57 slots filled in the 64-man bracket. That ties it for the largest bracket ever at the NCWA Championships.

165 pounds – Bellarmine and Liberty wrestlers loom for a title clash in this class. The Knights’ Cole Nance (30-12), one of only a handful to achieve 30 wins to date, is the top-seed and scored three pins during Thursday’s action. He’ll face Central Florida’s Charles Roche (10-0), the still-undefeated Southeast Conference champ, in the quarters. Yury Pozdneev (8-2) of Ohio State placed fifth at 157 last year and has a quarterfinal match against four-seed Ethan Baker (21-14) of Apprentice. Baker had three pins Thursday, two of them in the first period.

Liberty’s David Over (20-8), who is as steady as they come and last year’s national runner-up in this class, faces Apprentice’s Landon Kissell (18-10) here in one of those key Liberty-Apprentice matchups. Over beat Kissell at the Mid-Atlantic Conference Championships two weeks ago. Washington State is showing it mettle among the Division I programs buoyed by what appears to be the largest fan base that traveled to Puerto Rico. The Cougars’ Bobby Shepard (14-8) scored two pins before upsetting third-seeded Gavin Zoucha of Wayne State in the round of 16. He’ll face Talon Pisarchuk (20-4) of Williamson College of Trades, the Mid-East champ, in the quarters as Washington State looks to move up from sixth place.

The 57-slot tournament record set by the 157-pound class only lasted one class. More kudos to the 165 class, which tied the record with its own 57-man bracket in this tournament.

174 pounds – Bellarmine is at the head of this weight also with top-seed Devan Hendricks (23-4) rolling along after a tech fall and a fall Thursday. Slippery Rock’s Keith Brubach (19-3) awaits in the quarters. Slippery Rock sits 18th with three wrestlers still contention in its best showing in a decade. Benjamin Blickle (11-2), a returning All-American for Ohio State, is the favored five-seed taking on 13-seed Sean Haas of RPI (17-7). Haas earned a narrow 3-1 win over four-seed Ethan Martin (9-3) of Liberty in the round of 16.

Liberty is still alive in the 174 bracket chase though with three-seed Zachary Kaminski (26-10). He’ll face a Florida’s surging Riley Hackworth (16-1), the six-seed who placed eighth in this bracket a year ago. Josh Kenny (14-2) of Grand Valley State is the two-seed with two dominant wins Thursday and takes on Ricardo Magny (18-9) of Springfield Tech in the bottom half of the bracket. A strong Friday morning push by Springfield Tech – its matches are well-positioned against those from other contending teams – could send them into the top three in the standings.

184 pounds – Allen University junior Michael Jackson (30-4) reached the 30-win plateau Thursday rolling through the top half of the bracket as its top seed. The Mid-Atlantic Conference champion will face one of the day’s best underdogs in the quarterfinals in James Madison’s Aaron Whear (12-4). Whear qualified from the MAC Championships with a medical wildcard and made the most of the opportunity with two wins to reach the quarters. Watch out on this one – Jackson beat Whear by decision, 5-2, in their only meeting this season back in December.

The Rutgers Wrestling Club maximized its day with 25 points and is in 23rd. The Scarlet Knights have two wrestlers still in title contention and they’re both in this bracket. Ben Liss (24-3), who took third in this bracket last year, takes on Ohio State’s Graham Carson (8-1) in the quarterfinal opposite Jackson-Whear. His undefeated teammate, Nicholas Franco (11-0), is the Mid-East Conference champion who has his hands full Friday facing Liberty’s Gabriel Hayes (12-9). Bellarmine has the two-seed in Kennedy Wyatt (20-15), a high-scoring shooter whose took three decisions Thursday by a combine 35-12 count. He faces Springfield Tech’s Stephano Magny (17-10), a returning All-American after an eighth-place finish in this class last year.

197 pounds – All eyes are on Liberty’s pair in this class along with one specific quarterfinal matchup. Josiah Murphy (15-1) of Liberty leads the class as its top seed, adding two pins and a major decision Thursday to reach the quarters. He’ll face West Chester’s Matthew Micale (10-2) Friday morning. Liberty’s Sean Gillespie (15-8) shot through the lower half of the bracket with two pins and a forfeited match to reach the quarters. There he faces Matthew Abraham (22-10) of Toledo, which sits in 10th place with 44.5 points but still has nine wrestlers in action. Abraham is one of four in the championship brackets.

On the bottom of the bracket is Grand Valley State’s Seth Konynenbelt (31-5), the two-seed and two-time All-American who was the NCWA runner-up at 184 last year. Konynenbelt, another 30-match winner, had one of the day’s outstanding runs with two falls and an 18-0 tech fall in the round of 32. He faces Apprentice’s Caleb Hartung (21-8), the seven-seed, in the quarters in a match that’s vital to both team’s desire to stay in pursuit of Liberty.

In the middle of the bracket are two underdog contenders ready to pounce on the favorites. No one has beaten Florida A&M’s Dominic Love (13-0) yet, and his quarterfinal matchup is against Slippery Rock’s Derek Yingling (12-5), who blasted through the middle of the bracket with three falls Thursday. The winner there punches through to what should be an entertaining semifinal against Murphy or Micale.

235 pounds – Jeffrey Allen (27-2) dominates the talk in this bracket, if not the tournament with his pursuit of a fourth consecutive national title. His quarterfinal opponent is sophomore Jeffrey Worster (15-4) of the Maine Maritime Academy. A win there would pit Allen against either Shawn Conniff (23-3) of Springfield Tech, the four-seed, or 12th-seeded freshman and Mid-Atlantic Conference mate Landon Gray (12-8) of East Carolina.

On the other side is Liberty’s Seth Ellsmore (14-6), who rolled through three matches Thursday as the 10-seed. While Ellsmore was outlasting Grand Valley State’s seven-seed Zach Foote (11-6) with a final-minute fall, 15-seed Ed Wild (15-3) of Rhode Island came through with another of the day’s upsets, toppling Apprentice’s two-seed John Pierce (12-4) in the round of 16. Wild, a junior who placed third at the Northeast Conference tournament, now faces Ellsmore in the quarters. It’s been 20 years (2002) since Rhode Island had an NCWA All-American.

The other quadrant here is a Western affair. Western Washington senior Jacob Westfall (12-4) wasn’t done when he won the Northwest Conference title two weeks ago. The 11-seed endured three matches Thursday, including 3-1 and 2-1 decisions, to reach the quarters. He’ll face Utah Tech’s three-seed Zeke Alleman (19-3), who placed fourth in this bracket last season.

285 pounds – Frederick Weaver of Liberty is the third beast of the Flames’ upper weights trio. The defending national champion and its top seed takes on Rowan’s Caleb Corrigan (9-0) in the quarters. Corrigan won’t be intimidated in the matchup. The Mid-East Conference champion placed sixth in this class a year ago and has made the most of his postseason thus far after an abbreviated 3-0 regular season. Opposite that pairing is Toledo’s four-seed Jacob Meek (26-11) facing Springfield Tech’s Jacob Gariepy (16-2), the 12-seed.

The bottom half of the heavyweights followed its seeding. We could have a Liberty-Apprentice title rematch – Weaver beat Apprentice’s Peter Cortapasso in the final last year – if the second-seeded Cortapasso can get past Grand Valley State’s seven-seed Bret Boudreau (12-15). It’s a great set of NCWA blue-bloods in this bracket and a great way to end the quarterfinal session when Central Florida’s Michael Morales (18-5), the six seed, faces Bellarmine’s Thaddeus Huff (27-7), who had two dominating wins Thursday.

Some other tournament notes:

* There were 16 undefeated wrestlers coming into the NCWA Championships. Only seven remain undefeated heading into the quarterfinals – Rowan’s John Tesoriero (10-0 at 125) and Caleb Corrigan (9-0 at 285), Ohio State’s Parker Watson (13-0 at 141), Texas A&M’s Scott Kilian (11-0 at 141), Central Florida’s Charles Rochee (11-0 at 165), Rutgers WC’s Nicholas Franco (11-0 at 184) and Florida A&M’s Dominic Love (13-0 at 197). Watson and Kilian face each other in the quarters.

* There are 13 undefeated wrestlers in the women’s bracket that begin competition Friday morning.

* It’s a tight list as to who traveled the farthest to attend the NCWA championships. Officially from Google Maps, Grays Harbor College, in Aberdeen, Wash., sits 3,785 miles from the Puerto Rico Convention Center. That is only four miles farther than the 3,781 miles between the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, B.C., and the tournament venue. Western Washington gets a mention too, as its close behind at 3,750 miles from its Bellingham, Wash., campus.

With the three schools differing by only 35 miles – that’s a difference of 0.009 percent of the total mileage on their trip – perhaps the tiebreaker for which traveled the longest should be its commute distance to the airport.